Alberta Cancer Foundation

Woman of action celebrate Inuit health

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When she lived in Edmonton years ago, Edna Elias (pictured above holding the pink toque) made sure she visited Inuit patients at the Cross Cancer Institute who’d made the long journey south from Nunavut to receive cancer treatments. She saw firsthand the care they received. Elias has been a role model in Nunavut Territory from her days as a school teacher in Kugluktuk in 1980. Trilingual in English, Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun, she has worked to preserve Inuit languages and culture. She has championed the causes of others in her various official and volunteer capacities. Today, her official duties as Commissioner of Nunavut include ensuring the democratic freedoms of Nunavummiut. And, symbolically, the Commissioner supports the values of citizens, acting as a flesh-and-blood symbol, representing the interests of the people.

After the death of her younger sister from breast cancer, Elias decided to take that symbolic status seriously. She was overweight and inactive – a far cry from the legendary fitness of her parents’ generation of Inuit people. Mainly through exercise and smart eating, Elias has since lost 100 pounds. She and a group of friends, calling themselves Women of Action, decided to celebrate their health and raise funds for the Alberta Cancer Foundation by heading out of the land for a 224-kilometre walk from Bay Chimo to Cambridge Bay. They walked for 10 ½ days. “We sat out 2 ½ days due to inclement weather,” Elias says. “The biggest challenge was the glare ice we had to walk on for the first two days.” The group experienced rain, slush, fog and high winds. “But the very last day was bright and sunny.”

They walked behind a supply team, who drove ahead on snowmobiles towing camp equipment. Accompanying Elias were Donna Olsen-Hakongak, Elisabeth Hadlari, Jamie McInnis, Janet Brewster, Jeannie Ehaloak and Capt. Yannick Fergusson, Elias’s Aide de Camp. Her support team included lead guide George Hakongak, Jimmy Haniliak, Chris Arko, Jorgan Aitaok, David Omilgoitok and Jerry Puglik.